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Army, Schools Seek Easy Transitions for Military Youth

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2001 – An Army-created program called the Secondary Education Transition Study, or SETS, isn't just about the Army, it's about mobile children.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Mary M. Keller (right), presents Walter Kaye a token of appreciation on behalf of the Military Child Education Coalition. Kaye and his wife were declared "platinum level patrons and special guardian angels." The award was presented during the coalition's 3rd annual conference, held in Palm Harbor, Fla., in July. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Pete Taylor, MCEC chairman, watches in the background. Photo by Rudi Williams.

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Therefore, SETS has the potential to benefit parents and children of all services and mobile students in the civilian sector, too, according to Mary Keller, executive director of the Military Child Education Coalition, the SETS senior researcher and principal author of the study's publication.

The education coalition, of Harker Heights, Texas, conducted the research project from May 1999 to May 2001. Thirty-nine high schools in nine school systems worldwide participated. The 30 field researchers involved compiled more than 2,000 documents and more than a quarter-million coded units of text.

"It's the largest research project ever done on the military child, according to the University of Texas," Keller noted. "MCEC managed the worldwide team that gathered the data. They looked at schools and sat down knee-to-knee with people to talk about the impact of transition."

SETS recommendations will be implemented during the coming school year in the nine participating school systems.

The problems researchers uncovered led to a memorandum of agreement with the nine participants. Since then, three more school systems have considered signing.

Keller said the Army selected the nine school systems because they serve some of the Army's largest installations and represent diverse populations. Researchers in Germany went to Baumholder and Kaiserslautern. The Korea segment involved the American high schools in Taegu and Seoul.

In the United States, research was gathered in the Muscogee County Public Schools, serving Fort Benning, Ga.; El Paso Independent School District, serving Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort Campbell, Ky., schools; Cumberland County Public Schools, serving Fort Bragg, N.C.; Killeen Independent School District, serving Fort Hood, Texas; Lawton Public Schools, serving Fort Sill, Okla.; and Clover Park School District 400, serving Fort Lewis, Wash.

Researchers queried hundreds of students, parents and educators, paying particular attention to 1999 and 2000 senior class members.

"We also interviewed staff members who taught juniors and seniors," Keller said. "Some of the profound impacts are that kids got messed up on their sequence for graduation."

She said the memorandum of agreement seeks to eliminate problems discovered by SETS and make life easier for transitioning military children. The components are:


  • Improve the timely transfer of records by letting parents hand-carry them.


  • Develop systems to ease student transitions, especially during the first two weeks of enrollment.


  • Promote practices that foster access to extracurricular programs.


  • Establish procedures to lessen the adverse impact of moves on students, especially from the end of their junior year through their senior year.


  • Communicate variations in school calendars and schedules.


  • Create and implement professional development systems.


  • Continue strong, child-centered partnerships between the installation and the supporting school.


  • Provide information concerning graduation requirements.


  • Provide transitioning students with specialized services for applying to and finding funding for postsecondary study.

Keller emphasized that base commanders support SETS, but are not parties to the memorandum of agreement. The agreement is between school districts.

Keller said children of military families face unusual dilemmas. Imagine, she said, how a student feels who moves from a school district that requires 21 credits to graduate to another district that requires 26. Another example is a student in an advanced placement program who moves to a school that doesn't offer such programs.

"On the social and emotional side, when you move you're not connected to the senior class, senior ring, cap and gown -- all the things having to do with the ritual closure of that K-12 experience," Keller said.

Researchers found that things seemingly as simple as knowing who to eat lunch with in the first two weeks of school are big deals for children, she pointed out.

Researchers learned students network and develop a self- image through extracurricular activities, she said. "Ask a student to tell you about him or herself, they'll say, 'I'm a tennis player, I play French horn or I'm a linebacker," Keller said. "They're going to talk to you about the kinds of affiliations they have."

Asked what they do that they're most proud of, students' responses were things like, "I volunteer a lot in church or I'm involved in the National Honor Society," she noted. "These are their connectors to the larger community. That's contrary to how many people view military children." "To say that all military students are resilient, strong and adaptable isn't true because it takes away issues that have to do with how children face situations and what's going on at home," Keller said. "It's important not to treat all kids the same, but rather to treat all kids fairly."

Keller said doing the right things and doing things right for students of military families also set up schools and other groups to help all other mobile students.

"It just so happens that these children's parents are connected to the military," she said. "SETS is good for all mobile students. The Department of Education tells us that, K through 12, there is about 25 percent mobility of all public school children and a lot more than that in some places. Military kids move about three times more frequently than civilian kids."

SETS is about kids, not about the Army, Keller said. "SETS was so focused on children that it never talked about a particular service," she said. "However, it's the Army's inspiration. Air Force and Navy kids are in the study. The largest population was from Army families. The Air Force was second, followed by the Navy."

"The beauty of SETS is that we brought together military commanders, school superintendents and school boards to collaborate and cooperate with one another," said Patty Shinseki, whom education coalition members call SETS' "main cheerleader." "The Army was the facilitator, but it was the school systems that really did the hard work."

Shinseki, wife of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki, called SETS the first step in furthering the initiative to the other services. "The program would be useful in the civilian sector, too, because civilians are becoming more mobile," she noted.

"A typical military youngster moves an average of nine times during the course of a soldier-parent's career and attends perhaps as many different schools -- three times more than civilian counterparts," Shinseki said. "As a mom, I remember the joy, fears, exhilaration, frustration, anticipation and disappointment every time we moved. A roller coaster of emotions accompanied each move we made with our youngsters, not unlike hundreds of other stories."

Shinseki said, based on the memorandum, the Army and educators can tell transitioning students more about what to expect at their next school and to help them and their parents avoid many problems.

"All our children want is a level playing field and to be given an opportunity to excel without too many challenges," she said. "SETS will level the playing field for them and the obstacles can be smoothed out."

The next step is to interest other school systems in signing the agreement, thereby extending SETS far beyond the founding nine involved in the study, Shinseki noted.

A new Army stabilization policy evolved from SETS and a summer 2000 education summit. Published in April, the policy allows soldier-parents with high school seniors to request staying in their present assignments until the student graduates. Nearly 300 requests have been granted since the program started.

"Our youngsters are saying that's a wonderful thing, and they're pleased that the Army is listening to their voices," Shinseki said. "A Navy high school senior in San Diego said this is the first time that anybody besides his mother has asked him what he thinks about changing the schools.

"This is part of the Army's well-being strategy, which says the more valued our soldiers and families feel, the more likely they are to stay with us and more likely to join us," she said.


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